The Kings stressed that they might get off to a rough start.
Throughout training camp, coach George Karl talked about the difficult early-season schedule and his hope the Kings might steal some wins by catching good teams on an off night.
Much of that caution was drowned out by the excitement of a revamped roster that perhaps was talented enough to sneak into the playoffs as a lower seed, even though 10 new players would need to quickly figure out their roles.
Here’s the reality: A little more than a quarter into the season, the Kings are 7-15, third-worst in the Western Conference. They are just 3 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot, but they’re also only three games ahead of the conference-worst Los Angeles Lakers.
Despite their record, the Kings continue to be optimistic.
“For me, I’m just positive about the situation,” Karl said. “It’s just a really hard schedule, and I don’t know what a good record would have been. But with this schedule, you weren’t going to come out of the block 13-6, 14-6. If you were 10-10, you’d probably be in celebrate mode.”
The Kings aren’t close to party time, though. They have glaring holes on defense and are struggling to find consistency amid injuries and lineup changes.
With this schedule, you weren’t going to come out of the block 13-6, 14-6.If you were 10-10, you’d probably be in celebrate mode.
Kings coach George Karl
Sacramento is 1-7 without All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, and Darren Collison and Rudy Gay also have missed games. First-round draft pick Willie Cauley-Stein is out until at least early January after an open dislocation of his right index finger.
Though the Kings are better suited to deal with injuries because the roster is deeper, Cousins’ production and the attention he draws are hard to replace. And when Collison was out, Karl did not have enough trust in Seth Curry to play him more at point guard, leaving Rajon Rondo on the court for close to 48 minutes a night.
Even when all their players are healthy, the Kings have areas that must improve if they are to move closer to the playoffs and not closer to the Lakers.
The Kings have many positives on offense, but they might be the worst defensive team in the NBA. They rank near the bottom in points allowed (108.8, 29th) and field-goal percentage allowed (46.6, 28th).
The perimeter defense has been particularly appalling at times, with opposing players having their way too easily and too often.
On defense, the Kings occasionally have looked confused or disinterested, as if they are comfortable trying to outscore teams and hoping their opponents misfire rather than trying to make stops. With the Kings sometimes struggling to execute, Karl said he is constantly looking for strategies that can help his players.
Some games – Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, for example – the Kings looked engaged defensively, but that does not happen often enough. And despite the hard work against the Thunder, the Kings lost.
I think for me, and as a coaching staff, we’ve got to correct what’s going wrong, but we’ve also got to stay positive about what can be.
Kings coach George Karl
“We can come in here and try to pat ourselves on the back,” Cousins said after Sunday’s game, “but an ‘L’ is an ‘L,’ and we’re a better team than what we’ve been showing.”
Even with injuries and a difficult schedule, a 7-15 record is not what the Kings wanted. They’re on pace to miss the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
Karl, however, believes there’s still time to turn around the team’s fortunes.
With 60 games to play, Karl figures Cousins will not miss almost half the games as he has in the season’s first quarter. The coach expects Rondo to continue to flourish in his system, and he believes Gay will become more comfortable and his bench will continue to be consistent.
“Yeah, we’re disappointed we don’t have a few more wins in our pocket, no question about that,” Karl said. “But every game there’s some sunshine. I think for me, and as a coaching staff, we’ve got to correct what’s going wrong, but we’ve also got to stay positive about what can be.”
Three things the Kings need to fix
- 108.8: Points allowed per game, 29th in the NBA
- 46.6: Opponents’ field-goal percentage, 28th in the NBA
- 72.4: Kings’ free-throw percentage, 25th in the NBA